Tiny Bubbles: Star Trek Gets An Atomic Look

by Elizabeth Howell on May 6, 2013

The Star Trek lego is spelled out on the atomic level in new research performed by IBM. Credit: IBM Research

The Star Trek lego is spelled out on the atomic level in new research performed by IBM. Credit: IBM Research

Add IBM to the list of entities eagerly counting down to Star Trek: Into Darkness, the next installment of the famed franchise, which opens up in theaters May 17. Researchers at the computing giant are so excited that they created atomic images of Star Trek symbols.

Users of the Star Trek: Into Darkness app available on iOS and Android can see images of the USS Enterprise, a Vulcan hand salute and, of course, the logo for the movie itself — spelled out in individual atoms.

“These images were made by precisely moving hundreds of atoms with a two-ton microscope, operating at a temperature of -268 Celsius and magnified 100 million times,” IBM stated.

To show off just how good they think they are at this, IBM also released “the world’s smallest movie”, called A Boy and His Atom, where they play a stop-motion movie using the same moving-atoms technique. Check out the results below:

“Moving atoms is one thing; you can do that with the wave of your hand. Capturing, positioning and shaping atoms to create an original motion picture on the atomic-level is a precise science and entirely novel,” stated Andreas Heinrich, IBM Research’s principal investigator.

“This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world and show everyday people the challenges and fun science can create.”

As a quick science reminder, an atom is a unit of matter with a nucleus that is surrounded by electrons. That’s the simple explanation, but there’s a lot to explore even within that basic concept: electron transitions, subatomic particles and what happens if a piece of matter encounters a piece of antimatter.

Atomic physics is important to help astronomers understand how the sun shines, for example. Engineers also are trying to figure out how to develop antimatter engines for future space exploration.

Source: IBM – World’s Smallest Movie


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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